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  • Nick Burgess

How I Doubled My Income In One Year

What's the fastest way to double your income?

Last year, when the Better Marketing publication called for a look-back on salary histories, I thought it a great opportunity to take a look at my own, what lessons I’ve learned, and what I think about salaries in the marketing field from someone who’s been in every part of the machine. Presented - my salary history from a lowly intern to department director in about 8 years. Let's go!

Starting with the Unpaid Internship

My first job out of school in 2014 was as a radio intern, and it was one of the strangest jobs I have ever had and will ever have. Absolutely anything and everything was on the table in terms of job responsibilities. Drive a Sprinter van to a Comcast store so we can play music at a charity event featuring a former Atlanta Falcons NFL player? Sure! Produce a new version of a song so the music bed at the beginning lasts as long as an ad? You got it! Work with the sales team to program advertisements and focus groups? Why not?

on-air radio sign during my internship

All of this led to me doing social media for the radio stations under the corporate umbrella, as well as my introduction into other marketing avenues. From this super weird job, I discovered that marketing could be a real career! I decided to lean more into this world, and ended up moving on after about 15 months in radio.

Pay - $10 per hour

My First "Real" Job - Ad Agency Social Media Buyer

Ad agencies are famous for taking young graduates, giving them 15 clients and forcing them to work 80 hour weeks for $30k per year. Luckily, the 80 hour week part wasn't true. Everything else was.

My clients included multi-national pizza chains, global apparel companies and local mom-and-pop shops like law firms and construction companies. At my agency I learned to hone my craft, as well as learn the ins-and-outs of media buying. You also learn one hell of a lot about office politics when your agency gets reduced from a headcount of 40 to a headcount of 8 literally overnight. After a promotion to "Social Media Planner," I was contacted by a headhunter and shipped out to the client-side.

Pay - $30k per year, later increasing to $33k per year.

The Move to the "Client-Side" - Social Media Planner

In the marketing world, the move to the client-side is a sacred ritual. Typically, it means you've eaten enough shit in your agency job that you are afforded the opportunity to be the shit-giver, not the shit-taker. You understand how the agency world works, you've put the time into learning the media, and you've shown a work ethic to handle whatever gets thrown at you.

What I didn't realize when I moved into the client-side is that there can sometimes exist a purgatory. You know that scene in Harry Potter when Harry gets killed and goes to that phantom train station and has a completely unnecessary chat with Dumbledore about life and wizards and magic rocks? That was this job.

Rather than move into a strategy role at the client, I moved from drowning in clients at my agency to drowning in internal clients at my client-side job. I ended up in an internal agency that paid more (a lot more), but the amount of crap I took also ramped up in proportion. I did get to work on some awesome projects, including March Madness and the PGA Tour, but it wasn't worth sleeping under my desk for two weeks. I moved on quickly.

Pay - $60k per year

Entry Into Finance - Social Media Manager

Leaving my last job, I knew I would have to take a move backwards at my age and experience level. However, it was extremely worth it when I scored my job on the Social Media team at a regional bank in the Southeastern U.S. I was hired essentially because of all the shit I had to eat at my last two companies, and now it was time to prove my worth.

Turns out, this is the best career decision I've ever made. I moved from doing audit documents and light consulting to running my own campaigns and agency staff within six months. Beyond that, I moved into the corporate finance world, working with multi-million dollar clients and generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue. I even got to go to the Super Bowl to run all of our marketing efforts on-the-ground in Miami. That's when everything changed.

In the biggest bank merger since The Great Recession, my company was purchased by a similarly sized bank in the same footprint, and everything changed. Corporate goals shifted, teams moved, jobs were cut and things were just...different.

One of the things that changed? Access to growing vertically within the company. The promotion I was set for evaporated, and I had to get creative. I identified a role at the company I could leverage, and moved into that role shortly thereafter. The role also happened to come with a big raise and something completely new for me: a bonus! These aren't super common in marketing, so the fact I'd found one was like stumbling across a leprechaun.

Pay - $64k per year, with subsequent raises putting me at $75k per year. Following the promotion, I ended at $95k per year with a 25% annual bonus

Moving Into My Current Role - Social Media Director

It turns out that having a key role in a massive corporate merger makes you pretty marketable. Well, after leading my team through the mud of a multi-billion dollar acquisition, another financial services company came calling. Their issue? They didn't know how to navigate digital marketing during a merger. Funny how things work out.

So this is where I am now. Happily enjoying my job at nameless company #4, leading a team of marketers to navigate their recently closed merger. However, the story doesn't quite stop there. As soon as I assisted in the closing of the merger I was hired on for, I got an email from our CEO literally one day later that read: "We have entered into an agreement to be acquired." WHAT.

Pay - $135k per year with a 15% annual bonus and 25% signing bonus

So How Did I Double My Income In One Year?

Doing this career retrospective eight years in was fun! Turns out, I've been through a lot, especially in the last 12 months. From March 2021 to March 2022, I have more than doubled my total income. Here's what I learned, and how you can too:

Never Chase a Check

In all of the jobs above, I only ever regretted one career move: the move to company #3, after my agency. Why did I move? Was it for fulfillment or career advancement? Nope! It was for cash.

I was sick of making $30k per year, barely being able to move out of my parents' house. I felt stuck, and money was the sole reason I left to work my first client job. I absolutely hated it. It was the worst job I've ever had, and hopefully the worst I will ever have. I had constant panic attacks, everything fell apart around me, and I should have known the writing was on the wall when the director of my department publicly declared "you are going to fail" to me directly while in front of the rest of the team.

It's never been easier to multiply your income outside of your 9-5 (side note: thanks for reading!). You should use your 9-5 to do something that actually makes you feel good. Is it working for a non-profit and making the world a better place? Is it moving into a job you always wanted? Do it! Use your free time to fill in the income gaps.

Get Certified

My list of degrees starts with "high school diploma" and ends with "Bachelor of Arts." I don't have a Master's degree, or a Ph.D. I never did night school, and I haven't had to put together a thesis (yet). What I did do is research what would actually help me in my life, and put my time and effort towards those things.

Social media marketing has been on the rise for around a decade now, and there is no shortage of certifications and programs you can accomplish to help further your career. From my perspective, I want to know if you know how to use the platforms and interpret the results. That's why I put more emphasis on certifications like Facebook Blueprint, Twitter Flight School or Hubspot Inbound for the people that I hire.

Find the relevant certifications and get them. They're usually free, but the time investment will pay off better than pretty much anything else.

Don't Be Afraid To Ask For What You're Worth

In looking at my current position, I asked early on what the salary range was. The recruiter gave me one hell of a range, with a $40k swing. I told her immediately that I was looking for the top of the range, which she actually did scoff at. They were looking for someone with 10+ years of experience for my role, and I was coming in with 8, so who the hell was I to demand so much?

Well, look at the market conditions we're in. It's harder than ever to find people to fill roles, especially at this level. They were also looking specifically for someone that had financial services experience, social media experience and someone who had experience in mergers and acquisitions. Since I had all three, I essentially forced them to pick what was more important: the number of years of experience, or the type of experience.

No one knows what you're worth more than you do, so don't be afraid to ask for it. The worst they can say is "no," and the best outcome is that you get it and now all parties are happy.

The Bottom Line

The reason I wrote this piece was not to brag (maybe a little), but to help inform. We are currently in one of the greatest job markets in American history. With more jobs and fewer people, employees have never had more leverage to demand what they're worth. Don't let them trick you with "Bagel Wednesday's" and ping-pong in the break room. Take this opportunity to assess: Am I making enough? Am I happy? If not, how can I fix it? Now's the time, so it's time to take it!


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